A Guide to Headaches and Different Treatment Options
Did you know that headaches are one of the most common disorders of the central nervous system globally and that more than 15 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from it? Prevalence among women is also higher than men and in adults younger than 65 years. Some headaches can also be critical. It’s therefore vital to discern the type of headache you have, so you can choose the best treatment.
What are Headaches and How are They Categorized?
By narrow definition, a headache is a pain in the face or head that can sometimes be felt in the upper neck. Headaches are classified as either primary or secondary. There are three main types of primary headaches namely; cluster, tension, and migraine headaches. These types are not linked to an underlying health condition.
Secondary headaches, also known as chronic headaches, are always linked to underlying conditions like a neck injury and pain or other life-threatening health conditions. Some of these conditions that require urgent medical attention include:
- Extremely high or low intracranial pressure
- Inflammation of blood vessels in the brain
- Brain injury
Various Types of Primary Headaches
Primary headaches are categorized as:
- Cluster or
- Tension headaches
These types of headaches are severe and often recurring, and you may have sensory changes known as an aura. Migraines are different from other types of headaches and usually occur in stages for up to a few days. The stages include a prodromal, aura, attack, and postdrome phase. Migraine pain can be felt on one or both sides of the head and is often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light.
Those suffering from fibromyalgia, insomnia, stress, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Bipolar Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are predisposed to developing migraines. Migraines can be either classical or common. With classical migraines, you’ll initially experience and aura, prior to unilateral pain. Common or bilateral migraines do not include auras.
Migraines can also be acute or chronic. Acute migraines are episodic, and if you have this, you could have a headache for up to 14 days per month. Chronic migraine sufferers on the other hand experience about 15 headaches a month, with eight days of this being migraines, for longer than three months.
These are certainly one of the most painful types of headaches and they occur via bouts of attack, also known as cluster periods or cyclical patterns. This is the type of headache that could disturb your sleep.
You may experience these bouts over weeks or even months, and then suddenly go into a long remission time. Pain can be felt on one side of your head. You could also have red eyes and a discharge from your nose.
Tension headaches are often referred to as feeling like a tight band around your scalp. It’s one of the most common forms of headache and can cause your neck, shoulders, and head to feel tender.
Tension headaches can be either episodic or chronic. Episodic ones can stretch from 30 minutes to seven days. If you experience episodic tension headaches for an excess of 15 days per month for three consecutive months, you are a chronic sufferer.
What Triggers Headaches?
Migraines are triggered by:
- Hormonal changes
- Alterations to your sleep pattern
- Sensitivity to natural light
- Overusing certain medicines
- Consuming too much alcohol and caffeine
Cluster headaches are caused by:
- Cigarette smoke
- Strong aromas
- Too much alcohol
Tension headaches are triggered by
- Bad posture
- Lack of exercise
- Tense neck and head muscles due to depression or head injury
How are Headaches Prevented?
You can reduce your chances of developing headaches with just a few simple lifestyle adjustments. These include exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, positioning your pillows correctly so you don’t strain your neck muscles, maintaining great posture, and eating healthy.
Strive to reduce stress levels and ensure that you drink enough water, and try relaxation activities like Tai Chi, massage, deep breathing, or music and art therapy.
Other preventive therapy measures according to Mayo Clinic, include taking:
- Antidepressants like nortriptyline (Pamelor) to reduce depression, sleep disorders, and stress
- Beta-blockers for preventing episodic migraines
- NSAIDs which are anti-inflammatory and non-steroidal
- Anti-seizure drugs containing topiramate and divalproex sodium and
- Botox injections
How to Treat Headaches
Some headaches can be treated with Over the Counter (OTC) drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin IB) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). You can also opt for more interventional pain relief treatments at MidSouth Pain to further treat your headaches and alleviate your pain. These include:
Sphenopalatine Ganglion (SPG) Nerve Blocks
With this nerve block, an anesthetic is administered to your SPG, is a collection of nerves located behind the bony part of your nose. Your SPG is closely associated with your trigeminal nerve, the primary nerve linked to headaches. The treatment is therefore ideal to stop headaches. Risks here include nose bleeds and lightheadedness.
This 90-second procedure is effective in treating neck pain, headaches, peripheral nerve pain, back pain, and arthritis. A heating current is passed via an electrode to burn the medial branch of the nerve responsible for transmitting pain signals to your brain. We use a local anesthetic to numb the area. We then use an x-ray to guide and monitor the needle in real-time to the correct spot.
A radio-frequency current is then passed via the needle to create a lesion on the nerve. You may experience some nerve pain, or localized numbing afterward.
Cervical Epidural Steroid Injection
These injections are administered to relieve pain in your neck or shoulders caused by a pinched nerve. So if your chronic headache is related to ongoing neck pain, this could help relieve headaches.
An epidural injection containing steroids is administered to the epidural space near the painful area to reduce the swelling caused by the pinched nerve. Risks here include spinal headaches and allergic reactions.
Cervical Medial Branch Blocks
This procedure is used to reduce chronic headaches and neck pain associated with an injured or irritated facet joint. Here we inject an anesthetic over your medial branch nerve to hinder the transmission of pain signals.
We use a local anesthetic to numb your skin, before placing a narrow needle containing anesthesia into the joint. We use a fluoroscope to guide the needle and inject dye into the correct spot before administering the anesthesia. You may have some temporary pain from the injection site and in rare cases, bleeding and infection.
Schedule an appointment with one of our interventional healthcare professionals today.